The Heber Springs City Council unanimously passed a resolution last Thursday evening calling for the United States Congress to pass the “Marketplace Fairness and Remote Transaction Parity Act” and for the Arkansas General Assembly to pass similar legislation that failed during the 2017 legislative session.
For Mayor Jimmy Clark and City Council members who spoke for the resolution the Internet sales tax was about fairness for local businesses and tax revenues for the city to provide services. For Heber Springs residents who opposed the resolution, it was about paying more taxes.
“Who decides what’s fair?” asked Heber Springs resident, Marlin Schwartz.
“Well, that’s a good question,” responded Mayor Clark. “We’re not adding more taxes. That’s a fallacy. We have people who actually take their phones into a business, take a picture of an item, get on the Internet and buy it there.”
“It’s basically a paradigm shift because of the technology,” said Schwartz. “We’d still have buggy whips instead of automobiles under your concept of fairness. We’d be penalizing automobile manufacturers to preserve the buggy whip industry.”
“The real question is, how much tax revenue is it going to generate for the city of Heber Springs and the state of Arkansas?” rebutted Clark. “Instead of us having to go to the taxpayers saying we need another one percent.”
“If I go into a local store here and try on a pair of shoes in my size and brand and then go online to purchase them, is that fair?” asked Council Member Jim Lay. “What we’re trying to do is level the playing field. Also, the city receives no tax revenue if you buy online.”
“I know what you’re saying, but you’re using the idea that you’re going to save these businesses through taxes by leveling the playing field,” responded Schwartz. “The problem is that we have government spending out of control. I’m speaking in general terms. I’m not saying that you guys are inefficient, but at some point, there has to be more accountability and more bang for the buck for the benefit of the taxpayer.”
“I understand what you’re saying about a paradigm shift and the change in technology, but I believe what our obligation, as local politicians, is to our local economy and our local constituents,” argued Councilwoman Rebecca Prince.
“I’m a retired small business owner. I had to deal with technology, too. If you don’t move in the direction it’s going there’s nothing that’s going to save you,” responded Schwartz. “Not any concept of fairness or any spreading out of greater tax, which is questionable as to how that gets spent overall.”
The Sun Times asked city council members if they had spoken with the State Representatives from Cleburne County, John Payton and Josh Miller, and State Senator Missy Irvin. None of the state legislators voted for the Internet sales tax that was proposed in the 2017 legislative session. None answered that they had discussed it with their state legislators.
“I’m all for fairness, but I can’t find anyone who’s for it because this is a tax increase,” stated Payton.
SB140 failed in the House because state representatives demanded that the collection of the Sales and Use Tax from online retailers be dedicated either to a reduction in state income taxes across the board or to the state highway projects.